Category Archives: New Release

My Book Birthday

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I don’t talk much about my own writing here – as this is my reading blog, but I can’t let this milestone pass without a mention. Today is the release day of my debut chapter book series, Jasmine Toguchi, with the first two books in the series: Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth. This has been a long journey and I’m overjoyed that my books are now out in the world.

Another milestone is that we got a new puppy. Meet Kiku! She’s also happy to join in on the celebration!

For more info and how to purchase, please see my website. And to read some interviews and reviews, see my blog Notes from the Word Nest.  If you’d like a chance to win both books, make sure to stop by the Emu’s Debuts blog for my launch week posts Monday – Friday, July 10 – 14.

Thank you!

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Welcome to the Spotlight Kara LaReau and The Bland Sisters!

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Ahoy there! Join me in shining the spotlight on children’s author Kara LaReau and her marvelous new middle grade series The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, starting with book 1, The Jolly Regina! She most recently won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor for her chapter book The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers and published by Candlewick Press. Stay tuned below to enter for a chance to win a signed copy of The Jolly Regina!

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The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Jen Hill (Abrams/2017)

Jaundice and Kale Bland are sisters who live in Dullsville darning socks, watching the grass grow, and eating cheese sandwiches. They enjoy these things quite a bit, despite not knowing where their parents had disappeared off to for years. But one day, they are kidnapped by a band of female pirates and forced on an adventure that leads them to search for their missing parents. Full of great wit and humor, this story will enchant readers. And they will fall in love with Jaundice and Kale. I can’t wait for the next book!

Spotlight on Kara:

A swashbuckling witty tale about two sisters who enjoy NOT having adventures, end up on a pirate ship. I love that the pirates are all women. What inspired this all-female cast of characters?

When I wrote the scene where Jaundice and Kale hear a knock at the door, I had to ask myself who the mystery visitor might be. I thought, “What would be the most surprising thing for these boring girls to encounter?” Of course, the answer was pirates. But there have been SO MANY stories about pirates already, and I didn’t want them to be run-of-the-mill. That desire to provide a fresh take on something conventional, combined with my indomitable feminist spirit, led me to the crew of The Jolly Regina.

The names of all the characters and places are such fun! What was your process for finding the right (and funny) names? Do you have a favorite?

I am a bit obsessed with names. I’ve been told my own name is hard to pronounce and hard to spell, so I’ve spent most of my life correcting people! It’s led me to focus on remembering how to pronounce and spell other people’s names, which has led me to focus on names in general. I love words that almost sound like names, and I am always noticing and tabulating interesting ones. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you’re a big fan of names, you’re REALLY going to like the next Bland Sisters adventure!

The Bland Sisters do not like change or adventure. The pirates, obviously, do! Are you more like Jaundice and Kale, or like the pirates? And what would your favorite activity be if you lived in Dullsville or on a pirate ship?

I am a little bit of both. I love traveling and socializing and being out in the world, but I also love the comforts of home, so sometimes it takes effort to change out of my pajamas. I channel that homebody side of me when I write the Bland Sisters.

If I lived in Dullsville, I’d probably want to work at the grocery store; I’d love to know what other kinds of “sundries” they have in stock, and making deliveries might be interesting.

If I lived on a pirate ship, I’d like to sit in the crow’s nest. It would give me some alone-time, the view would be breathtaking, and I’d always be on the lookout for adventure!

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and NO SLURPING, NO BURPING! A Tale of Table Manners, illustrated by Lorelay Bové; a chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill.  Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

For more about Kara and her books, check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, and follow her on Instagram.

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To win a signed copy of The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina for yourself, a young reader, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, February 11 by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Monday, February 13 (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

EDITED TO ADD: Congratulations to Maria G. for winning a signed copy of The Unintentional Adventures of The Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina!

Yo ho ho! Happy reading!

 

Welcome to the Spotlight Andrea Wang and The Nian Monster!

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Happy Chinese New Year (on January 28, 2017)! Congratulations to Andrea Wang and her debut picture book! Stayed tuned below to win a signed copy.

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The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Alina Chau (Albert Whitman & Co./2016)

Xingling is preparing to celebrate the New Year in Shanghai with her family, but the Nian Monster has other ideas. He threatens to eat Xingling and destroy her beloved city! Clever Xingling comes up with ways to thwart and trick the monster, first by offering him noodles for long life and then fish for good fortune. Bit by bit, Xingling stalls the Nian Monster until she sends him away spectacularly. This fun and adventurous story is also full of great information about customs and traditions of Chinese New Year, accompanied by bright gorgeous illustrations. THE NIAN MONSTER is a fabulous story about a brave and smart girl in modern Shanghai outwitting a monster.

Spotlight on Andrea:

How did the idea for this picture book come about? What were some of the challenges and the highlights of your journey to publication?

I stumbled upon the ancient folktale of the Nian monster when I was looking for information about Chinese New Year to tell my sons. I did more digging and found several videos on YouTube with different versions of the story. I was intrigued by the representation of the old year as a ferocious beast that ate everyone until it was scared away by three simple things – fire, noise, and the color red. I thought I’d try re-telling the old folktale in a modern setting.

One of the first highlights of this book’s journey was receiving a Letter of Commendation from the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant contest. It was a wonderful validation and encouraged me to keep querying. I also think it helped the manuscript make it to acquisition meetings at two different publishing houses, although it was ultimately passed on for different reasons. The third time was the charm, though! My editor at Albert Whitman found my manuscript in the slush pile and made an offer on it (definitely a highlight)! Since then, I would say that the biggest challenge was waiting for the book to be published, and the one of the biggest highlights was seeing the artwork. Illustrator Alina Chau did such a fantastic job making the story come alive, as well as adding layers to the story that gave it a depth and richness I could never have imagined.

Xingling is clever and brave. She not only faces the Nian monster, but she comes up with ways to trick him. Without giving away the whole story, how did you come up with ways Xingling could thwart the monster? Did you know how she would trick him from the beginning, or did you have to figure things out and/or discard ideas?

I had lots of ideas from the very beginning on how Xingling was going to trick Nian, but they were all bad! J At one point, there were laser guns involved… (See? I told you they were bad!) None of them felt right until I thought hard about what I loved about Chinese New Year and the Chinese culture. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from China and always tried to make Chinese New Year special, even though we lived in rural Ohio and didn’t have access to cultural events or ingredients. This was the in the 1970’s and you couldn’t just run out and go to the Asian grocery store, because they didn’t exist. I remember my mom making tofu in the basement! Anyway, once I connected to the foods of my childhood, the ways that Xingling tricks Nian fell into place almost immediately.

Food is a big part of this book, which is another reason I love this story. I love food! What is your favorite Chinese food item and why?

I love food, too, which makes this question impossible to answer! When I was around Xingling’s age, though, my favorite Chinese food was a steamed bun filled with sweet red bean paste. I know, it sounds kind of gross (Bean paste? What is that?) but it was a huge treat at the time because it took so long to make. My mom made the filling by cooking the beans, adding sugar and a dollop of lard, and blending it into a smooth, creamy “paste.” She made the dough for the buns, too, and showed me how to roll out circles of dough, fill them with the bean paste, and twist the top to seal them. Then the buns were placed on squares of waxed paper and steamed until done. I loved spending the time cooking with her as much as I loved the final product!

Andrea Wang grew up making dumplings and taking baths with orange peels to prepare for Chinese New Year. She loves to travel and try new foods and has tasted camel in Beijing, mantis shrimp in Hanoi, and emu in Perth. A longtime resident of Massachusetts, Andrea now lives in Colorado with her family and their dog, Mochi, named for the sticky rice dessert.

For more about Andrea and her books, check out her web site, friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and/or on Instagram.

To win a signed copy of The Nian Monster for yourself, a young reader, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, January 28 by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, January 31 (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

EDITED TO ADD: Congratulations to Kathryn E. for winning a signed copy of THE NIAN MONSTER! Your prize will be on its way to you this week!

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the Spotlight Elly Swartz and Finding Perfect!

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I am over-the-moon thrilled to shine the spotlight on talented friend and debut author, Elly Swartz! I first read a draft of FINDING PERFECT before she sold the middle grade novel to FSG, and I fell head-over-heels in love with Molly. Stay tuned for a chance to win a signed copy below!

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Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz (FSG/2016)

Twelve-year-old Molly misses her mom when she moves out of the country to Canada for a job. Molly knows if she can win a poetry slam contest at school, her mom would come home and reunite with Dad and family. But, as the days go by with her older sister distant, her younger brother needy, and her father busy with work, Molly starts to notice certain habits are taking over – washing her hands over and over, lining up her glass animals perfectly with a ruler, making sure her homework is mistake- and smudge-free, and counting counting counting, until it’s all she can do to hide it from her best friends and family. In this touching story about trying to “find perfect,” Molly learns to let go of fear and finally get the help she needs.

Spotlight on Elly:

How did the idea for this story come to you, and what was your journey like from idea to sale?

One day, I woke with Molly in my head, and she wouldn’t leave until I told her story. At the time, I knew a number of adults and kids whom I was very close with who had OCD. I was awed by the disconnect between how they saw themselves and the world saw them. I then spent the next 7 years researching OCD, writing Molly’s story, and working with OCD pediatric specialists to authenticate the manifestation, discovery and treatment of Molly’s symptoms.

The journey was long, windy, and wonderful. Finding Perfect was originally written in alternating 1st person POVs between Molly and Hannah. It was a way for me to understand the vast discrepancy between how Molly saw herself and how Hannah saw her. Ultimately, I got to know Molly better, and rewrote the story from just her perspective. In doing so, I learned more about the dynamic between Molly, Kate and Ian, and Molly and her mom.

In the time between idea and sale, both the story and my love for Molly grew. She has stayed with me long after wrapping up my final draft. Truly, I think a piece of Molly will stay with me always.

Molly is struggling with a heavy burden, dealing with missing her mom, her parents’ separation, and feeling neglected/abandoned. What was it like researching for this book and getting to know Molly? What were the particular challenges and joys to writing this book?

Getting to know Molly was both inspiring and challenging. She was hiding in a dark place, and that is always hard to write. As the author, I had to get into her head, really embody her, and what she was experiencing to fully understand her feelings and write her story from a place of true authenticity. But, that’s what ultimately led to the greatest joy and inspiration. Molly’s acceptance of herself and recognition of her own strength.

The two most difficult scenes to write were Molly’s unraveling on stage during the slam poetry finals and her reunion with her mom. As a loving and affectionate mom of two sons, I wanted to protect Molly from hurt, sorrow, and fear. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and tell her it was all going to be okay. But, as the author, I knew that moment had to come later and it had to come from within Molly. She had to realize that she was going to be okay. That she was not OCD. That she was not one thing.

In the end, I was inspired by Molly’s courage, strength, and acceptance of imperfection.

Molly has a glass animal collection she cherishes. Do you collect anything? If so, what?

Unless you count all the books in my TBR piles, I don’t collect anything as an adult. As a child, I had two collections. A postcard collection – I think I just didn’t want to collect stamps or Wacky Packs like my older brothers. And, like Molly, I had a glass animal figurine collection. It started when my Great Aunt Ty took me to a museum and bought me a present on the way home. However, unlike Molly, I was way too sloppy to keep them neatly aligned anywhere!

Huge thanks for taking the time to get to know my journey, me, and Molly a bit better!

About Elly:

Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG October, 2016) is a story about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition determines everything. It took thirteen years, numerous drafts, many Twizzlers, loads of hugs, and much unconditional love, to find her way to YES. Through the years, Elly’s been a Sesame Place ride operator, messenger, lawyer, legal author, and college essay adviser. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.

Curriculum Guide:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

Website:

http://ellyswartz.com/

To win a signed copy of Finding Perfect for yourself, a young reader, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Monday October 31st, by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Thursday, November 3rd (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

EDITED TO ADD: Using a random number generator, the lucky winner is commenter number 2! Congratulations Melodye Shore! Please contact me with your mailing address and I will send out your signed copy of FINDING PERFECT asap!

Thanks to everyone for stopping by. Happy reading!

My Book Birthday!

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Hi! I’m throwing myself a book birthday party to celebrate the release of the early reader chapter book series I wrote for Capstone, and one lucky winner will receive the birthday gift!

There are four books in total: Dorothy & Toto: What’s Your Name?, Dorothy & Toto: The Hunt for the Perfect Present, Dorothy & Toto: The Disappearing Picnic, and Dorothy & Toto: Little Dog Lost. For story summaries, click here. The paperback versions are currently available for pre-order (although some people have said they have received their pre-orders already). If you’d like to buy these books, order them at your favorite indie bookstore, or order online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound.

For more information and to enter to win a set of the hardcover library edition for yourself, a child, or a school or library, click here to enter by commenting on the post of my web site.

Next time, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled Spotlight interviews and giveaways!

Welcome to the Spotlight Maria Gianferrari and COYOTE MOON

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I’m over the moon (get it?) happy to shine the spotlight (or maybe the moonlight) on children’s author Maria Gianferrari and her nonfiction picture book:

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Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Begram Ibatoulline (Roaring Brook Press/2016)

Coyote hunts at night – stalking mice, rabbit, geese, but not until the night is almost over does she successfully capture prey, food for her hungry pups, waiting for her in the den. Gorgeous illustrations capture this sleek predator on the prowl in a suburban town.

Those of you who know me know I am very fond of all animals. I have a degree in zoology and was an educator at a zoo, and volunteered as a raptor rehabilitator when I was in college. So, it is no surprise that I absolutely love this book! Stay tuned below for a chance to enter to win a copy of this book from the publisher!

Spotlight on Maria:

What was the spark that inspired you to write about a coyote?

I had a close encounter with a coywolf (also known as an eastern coyote) when I lived in Massachusetts in January 2007, and the seed of a story was born. It was such a majestic and beautiful creature. I became obsessed with learning more about them. At the time, I didn’t even know I had seen a coywolf until I had begun my research.

You do a lovely job – showing the natural balance of predator-prey relationships – how hard it can be for a predator to capture food, and how necessary it is in order for it to feed its young and survive. What were the challenges you faced in telling the story of a coyote hunting? What were some of the highlights of researching/writing this book?

I’d have to say the biggest challenge was trying to find balance between telling the story of a predator to young readers while remaining authentic about the coyote’s ferocity. By making the main character a mother coyote, hunting for her pups, kids can see that she’s hunting to feed her family, so her ferocity has meaning. It’s all part of maintaining balance in an ecosystem.

I loved doing hands-on research, walking in the woods with purpose, searching for signs of the elusive coyote—for scat, bedding sites, kill sites (I once found a bunch of turkey feathers, hence the turkey in the story).

The highlight was interviewing Dr. Jon Way, a noted eastern coyote/coywolf researcher, for what initially began as an article and evolved into a book. I read his book, Suburban Howls, and his scientific papers, and first learned about eastern coyotes/coywolves. I also visited the Stone Zoo where the orphaned coywolves that he rescued then lived. This is a photo of one of them named Lupe, who looked very much like the coywolf of my encounter.

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Do you have a favorite animal? What is it and why?

I LOVE dogs. They’re so affectionate and expressive and full of unconditional love. My dog, Becca, is the best writing companion 🙂

Maria Gianferrari was inspired to write Coyote Moon after her first coywolf sighting on a moonlit night in her own Massachusetts backyard. Maria now lives in Northern Virginia with her scientist husband, artist daughter, and rescue dog, Becca. This is her first book for Roaring Brook Press. Visit her at mariagianferrari.com, on Facebook or Instagram.

Roaring Brook has generously offered to send a copy to a lucky winner. To win a copy of Coyote Moon for yourself, a child, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, July 23rd by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, July 26th (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

EDITED TO ADD: Congratulations to Katz who won a copy of COYOTE MOON! I’ve sent you an email – please respond with your mailing address. Thank you to everyone for stopping by and entering! Stay tuned for more spotlights, reading buzz, and giveaways!

 

 

Welcome to the Spotlight Eric Luper and The Mysterious Moonstone

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Hooray and happy book birthday to author Eric Luper! This fabulous book is the first in the Key Hunters chapter book series. A secret library? Mysterious keys? I’m there! Stay tuned below to win a copy!

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Key Hunters: The Mysterious Moonstone by Eric Luper (Scholastic/April 2016)

When their beloved school librarian disappears, Evan and Cleo are stuck with a new mean librarian, Ms. Crowley. Evan and Cleo discover a secret library hidden under their school library and follow clues left by their previous librarian- and end up inside a book! Evan and Cleo must solve the mystery and find a key in order to return to their world. Will they make it out of the book? And what other mysteries are locked in the secret library? A fun adventure that had me trying to solve the mystery along with Evan and Cleo. I’m excited to read the rest of the series!

Spotlight on Eric Luper:

You’ve written several novels for older readers prior to this. How did this chapter book series come about? It sounds like such fun to write, with each book taking readers into a different genre.

I had been working on a middle-grade adventure that took place in the New York Public Library and had to do with real life puzzles, almost like National Treasure but in a library. I spent a lot of time learning about libraries and traveling to various libraries for ideas (NYPL, Chicago, Morgan Library, Library of Congress). I was having trouble envisioning how the story would come together until my editor from Scholastic, Jenne Abramowitz, mentioned an idea about a library with magical books that could only be opened with special keys. All it took was thinking about my idea for slightly younger readers with a magical twist and KEY HUNTERS was born!

Evan and Cleo are fun to follow – Evan with his jokes and knowledge and Cleo with her bravery and gumption. How did you develop these two characters? What are the challenges and joys to writing a book about their adventures?

I needed Evan and Cleo to sort of be opposites of one another. That way, there would be lots of opportunity for fun conflict between the two. They have very different ways of approaching problems, and neither is afraid of voicing their opinions. As I moved from book to book, I learned more about the characters in the same way I hope my readers do. And sometimes one or the other surprises me with a thought or action that makes me step back and ask why they did that! It’s part of what makes writing this series exciting for me.

As far as what challenges I’ve faced, I worried about writing a series. Most series have very similar plots from book to book and, quite frankly, that would bore me a little. When I get bored, I grow disinterested and interest is what motivates me as a writer. Since each book of KEY HUNTERS takes place in a different genre of fiction, every one becomes new and exciting for me and that has kept the writing coming fast and fresh.

I love the idea of having to find a key in order for Evan and Cleo to make it home. Do keys have any special significance for you?

Keys are fascinating to me. When I was little, I thought the more keys you had on your keyring the more important you were. Keys open up possibilities in the same way books do, so the two go hand in hand in my mind. The idea that a key would open a book that the characters would be drawn into just seemed to gel perfectly. And the idea that the worlds inside these books are as real as their own world felt exciting too.

Eric Luper grew up in New Jersey and attended Rutgers University. He writes fiction for young people and is proud to have moved from starving artist to not-so-starving artist. Eric loves excitement and is always looking for his next adventure. He’s fibbed his way into a tour of the ultra-secret Pez headquarters, rebuilt a castle in France, explored the creepy tunnels under Paris and Istanbul, escaped hungry crocodiles in Costa Rica, and rafted down the Colorado River. When he’s catching his breath, Eric lives in New York where he splits his time between Albany and Lake George.

For more about Eric and his books, check out his web site!

To win a copy of The Mysterious Moonstone for yourself, a child, or a school or library, follow these directions to enter in the drawing:

1. Comment on this post by Saturday, April 30th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and contacted on Tuesday, May 3rd (be sure to include your email address).

2. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!